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Speculation is tugging Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) in two different directions.
Taiwan's China Economic News is reporting that Apple is working with contract manufacturers in the country to build iPads with 7-inch screens, smaller than the 9.7-inch gadgets that have sold millions since their springtime launch.
Building on a hot product with different screen sizes at different price points wouldn't be new to Apple. It does this with MacBooks. There are also a wide array of iPod configurations. Why not an iPad mini? The shocker is that the smaller iPad -- not to be confused with the even smaller iPod touch -- may hit the market as early as this Christmas.
However, just as scuttlebutt is building on an iPad with a smaller screen, some folks are dreaming out loud about Apple making a splash with an even bigger screen.
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster is turning heads this week, alluding to the possibility of Apple rolling out high-def televisions as early as 2012. Web-tethered HDTV from the Cupertino craftsmen? Wow.
Now that I have your head going in two different screen size directions like a crowd watching a tennis match between the Williams sisters, let's pop both of those balloons.
A more portable iPad is inevitable. Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) makes sure that its Kindle comes in different screen sizes. However, does Apple really want to confuse the marketplace that it would likely have no problem owning simply with the original iPad? Why not give its original iPad -- which already cleared 3 million units in less than three months -- some more time to breathe on its own? Apple usually waits a year before updates. There's no reason to rush the evolutionary process, unless the company fears that someone else is going to crash its tablet party.
I'll pause here so we can all hear the echoes of laughter for Steve Jobs and his minions.
As for an actual Apple television set, this wouldn't be the first time that a computer company tries to make a splash in the living room. Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) and Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) tried and failed in the digital television market several years ago. HP was even ahead of its time with the 2006 rollout of its online-proficient MediaSmart LCD device. Just because you're selling a ton of computer monitors doesn't mean that you're going to be a hit in home theater.
Apple's different, of course. It has established itself as a premium brand. The rub here is that Apple hasn't exactly proven itself worthy when it comes to home theater. Its Apple TV set-top box has been a rare dud for the company. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) is teaming up with Logitech (Nasdaq: LOGI ) , Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) , and other tech heavies to roll out its Google TV box this year. Does that mean that a Google flat-screen isn't far behind?
Apple can make a serious dent in consumer electronics, but only if its refreshed Apple TV box is a hit first. This won't happen overnight, so just as an iPad mini in 2010 is premature -- an Apple HDTV in two years is also unfashionably early.
Apple will get there. Fans just need to be a little more patient.
Would you buy an Apple HDTV or an iPad mini? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.